In its most general term a benchmark represents a point of reference from which measurements can be conducted. Translated into a business context, benchmarks may thus serve as “measurements to gauge the performance of a function, operation, or business relative to others” (Bogan & English, 1994, p. 4). Based on that understanding of performance measurement, the essential business concept of the activity of benchmarking can be defined as the continuous and systematic process of improving strategies, functions, operations, systems, products or services by measuring, comparing and analyzing relevant benchmarks in order to produce superior business performance and outperform competitors (Böhnert, 1999; Ellis & Moore, 2006; Guo, Abir, Thengxiang, & Gelfin, 2007; Haverty & Gorton, 2006; Purdum, 2007; Schmitz, 1998; Spendolini, 1992). As human resource information systems (HRIS) are generally regarded as a key facilitator in promoting and securing the efficiency and effectiveness of the human resource (HR) function and are therefore also thought to represent a performance-critical key element of contemporary human resource management (HRM) (Cummings & Marcus, 1994; Hendrickson, 2003; James, 1997), benchmarking activities show the potential to generate valuable information for the management of HRIS. This information derived from the process of comparison to other business information systems or functions may support the buying decision for a new HRIS and represent an essential stimulus for implementation, design, or maintenance activities in order to ensure superior HR and overall business performance.
Along with the upsurge of computerized management information systems (MIS) in industrialized countries’ (at this time mostly large) enterprises in the 1980s, HR functions increasingly started to deploy human resource information systems in their daily work (Chu, 1990; DeSanctis, 1986; Groe, Pyle, & Jamrog, 1996; Hendrickson, 2003). HRIS were primarily seen as MIS subfunctions within HR areas intended to support the “planning, administration, decision-making, and control activities of human resource management” (DeSanctis, 1986, p. 15).
During the 1990s, along with the adoption of more complex HR practices focused on a company’s overall performance goal (Hilb, 2001; Scholz, 2000), HRIS correspondingly evolved into more sophisticated information expert systems featuring analytical tools to support decision-making in managing human capital (Chu, 1990; Greenlaw & Valonis, 1994). The dissemination of decentralized personal computers on most HR workplaces (also) in small and medium-size firms at that time represented a driving force for the widescale application of HRIS, as these systems became affordable and also available to most HR practitioners (Hendrickson, 2003).
Key Terms in this Chapter
Operationalization: The process of converting concepts into specific observable indicators that can be measured. Operationalization is a key component of the scientific method as it ensures the reproducibility of (results of) experiments.
Systems Thinking: An approach to analysis, based on the insight that components of a system or (sub)systems may act differently when isolated from the interacting environment and hence the basic concept for studying systems in a holistic way as a supplement to traditional reductionistic techniques.
Benchmark: A point of reference from which measurements can be made. Applied in a business context benchmarks serve as reference measurements to determine a function, system, product or service relative to others.
Benchmarking: A continuous and systematic process of improving strategies, functions, operations, systems, products or services by measuring, comparing and analyzing relevant benchmarks in order to produce superior performance.
Socio-Technical System: A (man-made) organized set of interconnected elements comprising of technical components such as machines and computer hardware as well as of human components such as people, policies and procedures.
Functionality: The sum of an entity’s functions and their specified properties that satisfy stated or implied needs. It refers to the usefulness or capability of the total entity, hence regarding its function from a systems-theoretic perspective.
Causality: Refers to the interrelationship of cause and effect indicating a causal relation between two events. In social sciences, the term causality often indicates a causality association or causality assumption as (mono-)causal and quantifiable relations between two events can hardly be identified.